I grew up in a time when you had to wait a week for the next episode of your favorite TV show to be on. When you used to have to use a payphone or a calling card to get a hold of someone…and you also had to know their phone number. To buy something, you had to go to the store. For most of my youth, the internet wasn’t even a thing. When it was, you had to connect via an old fashioned thing called a modem that, if you didn’t have multiple phone lines, would give anyone who called a busy signal (sorry, Dad). If you wanted food, you had to go and get it, with the exception of ordering pizza, which was a special occasion. If you wanted to try a new restaurant, you just had to hope it was good. There were no reviews to look up. To get somewhere new, you had to pull out the Thomas Guide to map your route.
I realize I sound like parents or grandparents at this point, with the whole “when I was your age, we had to walk five miles in the snow” speech, but really, things have changed a whole hell of a lot just in the time I’ve been alive. I think I’m in the last generation to know what the world was like pre-internet. What the very first cell phone looked like. The joy of getting a new face-plate for your Nokia. Three way calling seemed like a technological miracle. I had pen pals. My mom and I would have shopping days at the mall (we still do actually).
All of this stuff makes me reflect a lot on our culture now. Everything has to be instant now. Right here, right now. One-click shopping. Food delivery via an app (which yes, I admittedly love). You don’t have to flag down a taxi anymore, you call an Uber or a Lyft. Our cell phones are basically computers and you don’t have to memorize anyone’s phone number anymore. Few people even have landlines. The internet is just right there the second you open your laptop. Books, clothes, furniture, it’s all just the click of a button away from being on its way to your doorstep. You can watch all 12-20 episodes of your favorite show back-to-back in one weekend. Your cable box can hold hundreds of shows you’ve scheduled to record so you no longer have to watch commercials. Pen pals have been replaced by Facebook and Twitter.
Now I love so many of these things, but I also am keenly aware of how much of an impact these cultural changes have had on us, and on me. I think in some ways, I’ve become lazier. My memory isn’t what it used to be either which is partially due to aging, but I also think partially due to not having to use my brain for memorizing things as much. Not having to memorize people’s phone numbers, being able to look up anything and everything on the internet. Calculating a tip at a restaurant with an app. We have to do so little of the work that used to be a crucial part of day-to-day life not all that long ago.
The rapid changes make me yearn for the way things were when I was a kid sometimes. You had to make an effort to talk to someone. People couldn’t hide behind their computers and spew hatred without consequence. I wasn’t attached at the hip to a cell phone. I didn’t try to fill my weekends with Instagrammable activities. I went outside and played. I played board games and couldn’t wait for the school book fair. It was a special thing when I got to buy something at a store…a store which my mom had to take me to. Bookstores were plentiful. I took notes in class with paper and a pen. I had to register for classes in college with a pencil and a paper based on the classes that were all posted on piece of paper pinned up on the wall.
The only thing constant in the world is change. So technology, how we go about our daily lives, things like that are going to continue to keep changing. People are going to keep wanting more and more convenience. The hard part is trying not to get so swept up in those changes that we cease being human and getting out of the house. I have to remind myself to get off of Amazon and get out to a store to buy something. Buy a book from a local bookstore, even if it’s more expensive. Just go and sit outside and enjoy the fresh air. Put the phone down. Put the phone in another room even. Even if it’s scary because I may fall, go get food at an actual restaurant. Call someone instead of just texting. Read books or articles that challenge my mind and keep it functioning. Get validation from inside myself and not from the amount of Likes that photo got.
Instant can be fun. Instant can be convenient. But sometimes the best gratification is the kind you have to work for, even if it takes a little longer.